Labor 'Rebels' Lambaste Barak Efforts to Join Coalition

Barak picks negotiators for coalition talks with Likud; dramatic Labor Party conference set for Tues.

A group of Labor lawmakers vowed on Sunday to block their leader Ehud Barak's efforts to bring the center-left party into a Likud-led coalition.

"The appointment of a negotiating team without approval of the Labor party's institutions is something that has never been done before," the MKs said in a statement.

They were referring to Barak's appointment of negotiators earlier Sunday, charged with holding talks over Labor's possible entry into Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's incoming government.

The party statement continued: "This constitutes the breaking of all the rules of the party's democratic game... he is trying to force upon the Labor party a fait accompli."

Also Sunday, Barak promised he would remain in the Labor Party even if members strike down his attempt to join Netanyahu's coalition.

Labor and Likud negotiators were expected to hold their first meeting on Sunday, but the talks were postponed until the following morning. The Labor representatives comprise Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and attorney Alon Gelhart.

Barak said Sunday morning that Israel needed unity in place of a narrow rightist government. He urged the centrist Kadima party to launch talks with Likud, as well.

Earlier, the Labor leader had refused to make the same pledge, leading to speculation that he could resign from the faction if his stance was not adopted by party members.

Barak is girding for a dramatic Labor Party conference set for Tuesday evening, where he will try to convince Labor members to back his position in favor of entry into the coalition.

Labor MKs who oppose the idea have assailed Barak for his unwillingness to make such a commitment.

"This is unacceptable and bizarre behavior by the party chairman, who refuses to abide by democratic decisions," Barak's opponents said Saturday.

MK Eitan Cabel, Labor's secretary general and one of the leaders of Barak's opposition, said, "Barak, as chairman of the party, should have said that he would accept any decision [by party members]. But we have already come to learn that Barak's promises have no value. He will promise one thing now, and do something else later. It is sad, but this is the reality."

At a meeting with other opponents Friday, Cabel said, "If Barak wants to be defense minister, let him be a professional defense minister with Netanyahu."

Sources close to Barak said that the chairman intended to rally party members to his cause on Tuesday, and that he would not deal with media spin, which they blamed on his opponents.

MK Isaac Herzog is considered crucial to what the party decides.

Herzog has asked Barak for his reasons for wanting to join the coalition, and the party chairman is planning to respond in detail.

MK Ophir Pines-Paz, who is opposed to joining a Netanyahu coalition, said, "Even after my meeting with Barak, I still do not understand what offer [from Netanyahu] he intends to bring to the party. He did not present me with a thing."